Exceptional service is always included in the price. So how do you know when to tip in Japan? It’s actually quite easy, you don’t!
Not tipping in Japan is probably one of the most difficult concepts for Americans to accept. Even if the service was through the roof and the person was exceptionally nice, they are not expecting a tip. I’ve seen people try to give tips and it is really uncomfortable for me, the Japanese staff and the person giving the tip.
Japan is not a tipping country. Giving them a tip can lead them to believe that you think they are either not paid enough or that their kindness is not genuine and can be taken as an insult.
Etiquette & Tipping in Japan
Restaurants operate a bit different in Japan than they do in the North America. Servers are not assigned tables. If you need something, you just yell out sumimasen, which means excuse me. Then, the closest server will rush to your table and help you with whatever it is you need.
Some restaurants come equipped with a button on the table. When you need another drink, some more chicken skewers or a new plate, just press the button and wait for an employee to show up.
When you are ready to pay, you stand up and walk to the cash register. There you pay your bill and leave fat and happy.
Since there is no designated server, there is no need to leave a tip. Doing so would only confuse the staff and would more than likely result in them chasing you down to return the money.
Hotel staff are usually very well educated. The young man or woman seating you at breakfast, checking you in, or even carrying your bags up to your room more than likely has a college degree. There is even a good chance they are on a managerial track.
It is not uncommon for young management-bound employees to do, and work in almost every position within the company. They usually spend one or two years at a position before being moved to a new section.
Taxis are metered and very expensive in Japan. The drivers take their jobs very seriously and will not take a yen more than what the meter says. If you put more money in the tray than is displayed on the meter, they will hand it back.
Japanese tour guides are, more often than not, retired English teachers that love meeting new foreigners and making English speaking friends. There is often a fee to hire them and this fee is all they expect. I’ve read on other tour websites to give tips to guides, but all my Japanese friends and my 20+ years of experience tell me otherwise.
Becki and I follow the rules of Japan. We love meeting new people, showing them all the fascinating oddities of Japan and making new friends. We don’t need a tip for what we do. All of that exceptional service is included in the price.
How Do I Show My Appreciation?
If you really want to show your appreciation to someone in Japan, all you have to do is thank them and mean it. A deep bow and 100 thank you’s will show that you truly appreciated everything they did for you.
If you really want to blow their socks off, you can give them a small gift from your hometown. Nothing extravagant, of course. For example, one of our guests gave our Nara tour guide a small refrigerator magnet from her city. This is a kind gesture and holds more value than a couple hundred yen.